Tuesday, 10 May 2011
How to speak publisher - B is for Bung
Ever been tempted to buy a book because the bookshop labels it a 'staff choice' or 'one of our favourites'? Because it's in a three-for-two deal or some other promotion? As many people now know, these are not always 'real' staff favourites. The paid-for plugging of a book in a bookstore is a bung. A bogof, incidentally, is a type of bung - it's a 'buy one get one free' offer.
The iniquitous bung system was exposed in 2001 in an article in the Spectator. At that time, W.H.Smith was charging £10,000 to label a book a 'recommended read' and Amazon wanted £6,000 to call a title 'Book of the Month'. The quality of the book was pretty much immaterial - the booksellers who endorsed the books had often not even read them.
Although Waterstone's says that today's staff recommendations are genuine endorsements, it is still well known that the books on special offer in many bookshops, or on the tables at the front of the shop and so on, are there because the publisher has paid for them to be there.
Does it matter? OK, we can grumble about unfairness to authors - 'my book is not selling because it wasn't vigorously promoted'. More worrying is the suggestion to book-buyers that any particular book is really good, that it has been chosen by the bookseller for special promotion on the basis of its content. That, surely, is abusing the book-buyer's trust? But this post is not about the ethics of bookselling, it's about how to speak publisher. Now you know what a bung is - decide for yourself whether or not it is honest.